The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle took a localized approach. A piece by Brian Tumulty of Gannett’s Washington Bureau listed 10 reasons why New Yorkers should care about the farm bill—“no matter which side of the debate they’re on.” Besides listing provisions of importance to apple producers and growers of organic foods, Tumulty reported that the food stamp program helps 1.6 million New Yorkers pay for groceries, and that the Senate would cut $4.5 billion from the program and the House $16.5 billion over 10 years, noting that Republicans say such cuts are necessary to control program growth. Tumulty also talked to a real user of food stamps:
Late last month, Enid Bennett of Penfield was distracted by a gaping hole in her 11-year-old daughter Sierra’s birthday. “I can’t even afford to buy her a cake,” the 45-year-old said, her eyes full of tears. The full-time student at MCC, the single mother, relies heavily on food stamps. She can’t fathom the added stress if her benefits were cut. “We need food to live,” she said. “The price of food keeps going up while food stamps are cut.”
Here are some examples of some kinds of stories in the media’s current crop of farm bill pieces:
The bread-and-butter Congressional story.
This version, such as this basic offering from The Associated Press, covers the Who, What, When, Where, Why of the bill’s latest votes in Congress. Still, other than telegraphing what happened, it offers little in the way of explanation. The AP did report that the two legislative chambers are in a race to reach a compromise before Sept. 30, when the current farm bill expires.
The Congressional story with political variations.
North Country Public Radio built its piece around the efforts of New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, a Democratic member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, to restore $4.5 billion in food stamp cuts that the Senate is asking for. Gillibrand, who got support last week from a New York Times editorial, told North Country Radio that “families in NY who are already struggling will lose 90 dollars a month of food that goes on to their tables.”
The News-Gazette in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, used comments by its local Congressman, Republican Tim Johnson, as the frame for its piece. Johnson is a member of the House Agriculture Committee. The paper reported that the House version approved last week would cut spending by about $3.5 billion a year, with almost half coming from the food stamp program, and that Johnson agreed with that division. “The agriculture sector is one of the few bright spots in our economy and must be protected,” he said. “At the same time, our country is hurting. We all must sacrifice where we can.”
Meanwhile Politico posted a story that gave readers the impression that South Carolina Democrat Jim Clyburn, a mover and shaker in the House, was unhappy with food stamp cuts. “For us to be marking up this farm bill with this big a cut in SNAP is an abomination,” Clyburn said. Politico reported that Clyburn’s comments are significant both for their force and because of his special standing in the House.
The news/advocacy blend.
These are the kinds of pieces that border on advocacy, or at least they have strong political overtones. One from CNS.com, whose parent is the conservative Media Research Center, focused mostly on food stamps. It reported that “nearly 80 percent of the nearly $1 trillion Farm Bill will fund an expanded food stamp program that is projected to offer increased benefits long after economists expect the economy to recover.”
The What If? story.
The Omaha World-Herald did this version, leading with the specter of farmers dumping tons of corn and wheat on the federal government at wildly inflated prices—a possibility only if the bill fails to get renewed and thus we go back to an old system last used in 1949. The World-Herald noted that this could happen “if lawmakers can’t come together to at least extend the current farm bill, which expires at the end of September.”